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Legal Marketing & PR: Legal Business Development
How to improve legal team meetings (Part 2 of 2)
By Jim Hassett
During the meeting - continued from Part 1
- Whenever possible, start exactly on time
- Follow the agenda.
If there are 3 topics to be covered, finish #1 before you begin #2. If the conversation drifts, refer to the agenda and get back on track.
Drive topics to resolution. Summarize comments and bring the group to a decision or ask them to confirm that what you?ve said is a fair summary.
- Never end late.
No matter what time you start, the meeting should end at the announced time. People have other commitments, and meeting leaders should honor them. Unless of course the boss disagrees.
If a topic turns out to require more discussion than you expected, table it for an outside meeting or propose a quick action plan on how to resolve it.
You need a system in place to deal with people who will inevitably be inclined to go beyond any time limit. The meeting leader must prevent that.
- End early if you can.
Once you have met the objective of the meeting, declare the end. Make sure everyone knows that you ended early, the meeting met its objective, and you put a few extra minutes back into everyone?s lives.
- If your meeting objective includes building team efficiency and/or morale, make an effort to get everyone involved
- Ask team members to report project status.
- Ask the team for feedback on discussion points.
- Develop buy-in on the issues and solutions.
- If one or two people are doing most of the talking, make a point of including others and asking for their input.
- Observe the body language of attendees. If necessary, announce a quick break, bring the conversation back to the topic, or make sure someone new speaks.
- Handle problems promptly but diplomatically:
- ?It looks like we've drifted a bit, can we come back and focus on the agenda item.?
- Acknowledge the person's experience with a subject but suggest the issue be raised at a later time.
- Say: ?We?ve heard from X, does anyone have a different view??
- If the conversation is important, but time is running out, assign a smaller group to either gather more information or move the process along once the meeting is over. Find the owner of the problem and assign it to that person.
- If two people are dominating the conversation, send them off to figure it out.
- Record all decisions.
Keep simple meeting minutes, including all conclusions reached, who is assigned to do what and by when, and any items tabled for later.
If it would help, assign someone else as the note-taker who will be responsible for keeping the meeting minutes.
If a followup meeting is needed, ideally the minutes should include the time and place for next meeting and an initial agenda including any outstanding or tabled items.
Starting at the announced time would be a novelty at most law firms. One lawyer I know swears that he was taught in law school to show up ten minutes late for every meeting, because nothing important would ever start on time.
But if you always start and end on time, after a few meetings, the vast majority of lawyers will get with the program.
(A digression: Perhaps I should admit here that I have been accused of being a time fanatic. When coaches are certified at LegalBizDev, they are given a digital timer/clock to help ensure that all sessions start and end on schedule.)
The reason that this piece of advice starts with ?whenever possible? is that the client is always right. If the managing partner or the practice group leader or the visiting general counsel wants to start ten minutes late, do that.
After the meeting
- As soon as possible after the meeting, distribute a written report of what was decided, and any action items. Like the agenda, this can be a one sentence email or a fancy report, but it must be done.
- Monitor follow-up on action items.
- Give recognition and appreciation to excellent and timely progress.
- If any high-level problems came up, discuss them with decision makers.
- Consider evaluating this meeting to help you improve the next one. What worked and what didn?t? Most important, did the meeting achieve your objective?
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